Paper Money

DNW auction offers rare $5 note from a Hong Kong bank

The earliest known fully issued bank note of any denomination for Hong Kong, a $5 note from June 1, 1860, will be offered by Dix Noonan Webb in their auction of British, Irish and world bank notes on Aug. 26 in London.

It was issued by the Oriental Bank Corp. The catalog explains this was the first bank to open a branch in Hong Kong and it started issuing notes in 1846, although none of those are known to have survived. The example offered is of the type issued from 1851 to 1865. The only other surviving issued notes from the Oriental Bank Corp. are dated 1866 and 1879. Three of them are in private collections, and several others in institutions.

The recently discovered item has an estimate of £30,000 to £50,000 ($41,600 to $69,325) in a grade of Fine 12 by Paper Money Guaranty.

The note was printed by Batho & Bingley, described as a relatively small London printer that operated from the early 1830s through to the late 1850s. The firm printed all Oriental Bank issues from 1846 until 1865, after which the work was taken over by Perkins Bacon.

Connection to Scotland

The bank had a strong connection to Scotland. Its main office was in London, a large branch was in Edinburgh, and a majority of its directors and much of its overseas senior staff were Scottish.

The note has the signature of the manager, John McDouall, at right, and of the accountant, James Webster, at left, with a royal coat of arms at top center.

Andrew Pattison, head of DNW’s Banknote Department provided biographical information. McDouall was born in Stranraer, Dumfries and Galloway, on Feb. 7, 1831. Although when Hong Kong was officially founded in 1841 he was only 10, by the age of 20 he had made his way to the territory and started work at Oriental Bank Corp. By the time this banknote was issued in 1860, he was the Hong Kong branch manager. When he died in a carriage accident at the age of 53 he was manager of the entire Oriental Bank Corp., then the wealthiest and most successful bank in the region.

James Webster was from Fife. He was born in 1833 and took an accounting job with the bank in Hong Kong in 1859. He returned home in 1865.

Pattison says the consignor is unsure how the note got to the UK, but said, “We can surmise that it came back here in the late 1800s, probably with a British person working or traveling in the Far East, and lay undiscovered for over 150 years. $5 was a lot of money in Hong Kong in 1860 so for someone to have this note and not redeem it is quite unusual. They probably brought it back here and forgot about it!”

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